It’s a strange, warm-chill morning, just after half seven. The mist still lingers around the lower stretch of the parks, ear the ponds. A bagpiper has started up. He’s obscured by the trees, but we can hear some plaintive tune.
“In the first world war they sent pipers out in front of the troops to scare the Germans.”
“Did it work?”
“Probably not. At least, not after the firs time.”
My 14 year old son is in his tracksuit, jiggling about excitedly. We’ve stated doing running in the park, before school. Short intervals sprints, about 50 yards, then walking back.
The piper is now playing ‘Amazing Grace’. The mist seems to be moving towards us.
“3-2-1 go!” I shout and we are off. Me in front of him by miles, I think, then in the last few strides he lopes past me and wins by about five or six metres.”
“That was fun.” He laughs.
He is now faster than me. An inch shorter, about three and a half stone lighter, but he has looseness, a happy explosive elasticity.
We go again. This time it’s closer, as I’m trying harder. Walking back, the dog runs around our feet, trying to get us to kick his tennis ball.
‘Amazing Grace’ is still going. A park warden is walking over to where the piper is hiding behind the trees (Horse Chestnut?).
Third run. I’m winning all the way until the last couple of strides. He glides past me, still talking about how pipers have been in the British Army for a long time.
The park warden is striding back now. The piper is playing a different tune, something melancholy. The warden must have asked for a request.
Next sprint, he wins by a long way.
The mist is moving towards us.
I kick the tennis ball and the dog goes sprinting off, but in the wrong direction. My son runs after him and kicks the ball again. The dog is getting old, his eyes are going.
Fifth run. I’m nearly there, trying to relax into the running. It’s pretty much a dead heat, though a photo finish would have had him as the winner.
Last run. He is away fast and wins by ten metres. I’m knackered. The mist has stopped halfway up the park, reminding me of the time the tower block on Green Lanes was demolished 15 years or so ago and the dust cloud enveloped the lower reaches almost up to the raised New River bank.
We walk home. He his happy. The piper plays on his sad tune.